Wednesday, July 17, 2013

On Empathy

Consider this a call to pause and think about fellow human beings.  Really examine them deeply.

No assuming. No judging. 

No problem-solving or policy-making.

No looking at their world through your eyes.

Just get to know them.  Really know them.  Because they are worth knowing and understanding and loving.

I believe every human being is ineffably sacred in God's sight.  This implies a moral responsibility on my part to do my very best to treat them accordingly.  If God loves each person, followers of God's way must love each person too.  This is a mystical vision.  It is a mountaintop perspective.  It is very hard to sustain it, especially in the vicious street fights of politics.
-David Gushee, Sacred Conversations (please read the entire linked essay)

The gospel is powerful medicine, but ultimately it is not administered by volumes or votes or verdicts.  It is administered by a single trembling hand holding up a spoon before the willing face of another.
I can't understand why people don't see me for all that's me... not just some trifling girl with a baby. I'm more than that, you know?

One level is be nice, just be polite. Another level is to admit that there may be something you don't know. And then a third level, and this is the hardest, try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Try to actually see the world empathetically the way that the other person is seeing it. Sincerely make that effort.
-David Blankenhorn, On Being, Civil Conversations Project
Act 177: Politics aside, love first.
Lately, I have been ending speeches by saying, 'The two most radical things you can do in America are to slow down and to talk to each other.'  If you do these things, you will improve our country.
The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The End of Sex Trafficking


If there were no demand for commercial sex, sex trafficking would not exist in the form it does today.  This reality underscores the need for continued strong efforts to enact policies and promote cultural norms that disallow paying for sex.

-2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, page 27

The 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report goes on to give concrete suggestions to end sex trafficking as we know it:

Government Policies to Address Demand for Commercial Sex: Zero-tolerance policies for employees, uniformed service members, and contractors paying for sex -- even if legal in the country where these individuals work -- and commensurate training for such individuals can help raise awareness regarding the subtle and brutal nature of sex trafficking and how individuals subjected to this crime are victimized through coercion.  Moreover, by implementing these policies in procurement activities, governments can have an impact on a wide range of private-sector actors as well. 

Beyond Government: Cultural Leadership in Addressing Demand: Rejecting long held notions such as 'boys-will-be-boys' and sending the clear message that buying sex is wrong is not just a task for governments, but will require partnerships throughout society, including the faith and business communities.  Business leaders can adopt codes of conduct that prohibit purchasing sex.  And leaders in civil society -- from teachers to parents to ministers -- must foster the belief that it is everyone's responsibility to do their part to reduce the demand for commercial sex.  It is especially important to reach young men with a strong message of demand reduction to help them understand the exploitation that permeates the commercial sex trade. 

It is every person's individual responsibility to think about how their actions may contribute to human trafficking.  Laws and policies, partnerships and activism will continue to be critical to this struggle, but it will also be the day-to-day decisions of individual men and women to reject exploitation that will bring an end to modern slavery. 

Sadly, our culture has grown increasingly comfortable with the X-rated industry.  To expect an end to prostitution and pornography -- if such an endeavor is even possible -- seems absurd to them.  While you'd be hard pressed to find people who are okay with sex trafficking in any form, many believe that treating sex as a business exchange between two consenting adults (whether on-screen or in-person) is perfectly acceptable. 

The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons makes it clear that it is not at all acceptable because it perpetuates modern-day slavery.  In a very real sense, when you are paying for sex you are enslaving people.

I hold personal beliefs that make consumption of commercialized sex in any form unwise, unhealthy and unacceptable on a moral level for many reasons.  If you happen to be one of many who disagree with me, I would hope the realization that contributing to the industry also contributes to the bondage of women (and men) and children would be enough to compel you to abstain.

I did some very uncomfortable -- and at times, nauseating -- research on this. 

This 11 page fact sheet on prostitution, pornography and trafficking blatantly states the undeniable dangers of commercial sex.  Consider these statistics (all taken from the link):

  • 85 - 95% of those in prostitution want to escape it, but have no other options for survival.
  • 70 - 95% were physically assaulted in prostitution.
  • 65 - 95% of those in prostitution were sexually assaulted as children.
  • Early adolescence is the most frequently reported age of entry in any type of prostitution.
  • The death rate for women and girls in prostitution is 40 times higher than the average death rate for females.
  • Countries with legalized prostitution also have a greater inflow of human trafficking.
***All statistics are cited in the link.

According to researcher Donna Hughes, the average age of girls in prostitution has declined each year for the past decade. 

For those who believe viewing pornography is a different and maybe even more acceptable act, I must emphasize that pornography and prostitution are inextricably woven together.  Both are equally contributing to the human trafficking problem.

According to that same fact sheet from above, more than half of all prostitutes in one study reported that pornography was used to teach them what was expected.  And more than 80% were shown pornography by customers to illustrate the types of activities they wanted to engage in.

In a 2005 report in the Michigan Journal of International Law, Catherine MacKinnon effectively posited that when you make pornography of a woman, you make a prostitute out of her.  Not to mention countless studies are reporting  that pornography is increasingly showing activities in which women are slapped, beaten, tortured, raped and degraded in a variety of ways.

Here's the scary part about that: While I was in college I attended a guest lecture by a man who said he lost everything to pornography.  He had an addiction which most people who view pornography do not suffer from.  But he still spoke candidly about the dangers of viewing pornography.  He, and others I have heard since (including a Men's Health article I found when researching for this post), talk about a "mirror neuron" effect that happens when men view pornography.  They then are inclined to act out what they watch.  You can see how the connection between more violent images and mirror neurons is frightening.  For all women.

I will conclude by quoting a columnist, Amberly McAteer, whose words I stumbled across in my research.  After reading just two of her posts I learned that we disagree on the monogamous, marital relationship, but we are both firm, firm believers in the grave dangers -- to men and women -- of prostitution:

 Yes, I write this from my middle-class pedestal. I’ve never fallen on life-threatening hard times, but I know this: Women, every single one of them, are worth more than their bodies. In an ideal world, everyone would see that.

And so, it really is that simple.  Stop consuming commercial sex.  Pornography and prostitution in any form.  No exceptions, no excuses.  Stand for that. 

Sex trafficking will end.  Women will be valued.  And society will be much, much better off for it.


If you or someone you know suffers with inappropriate sexual urges or desires or would like help managing abstention from pornography or prostitution, contact a professional trained to help.

What now?

1,018,831 steps.  1,300 dollars.  We did it.    More than fifty people donated.  More than twenty walked with me.  And around a hundred or so promoted my personal campaign through social media.  678 treaders raised $52,329 for Love146 to continue the fight against child sex trafficking around the world.

To everyone who helped, thank you!

Tread on Trafficking is over, but the work continues.  I hope those of you who joined me in this fundraiser will not stop your efforts there.

While protecting children is at the top of my priority list, adults bound by forced labor are just as worthy of freedom.  Child sex trafficking is just part of the modern day slavery problem.  We must work to free all 27 million of the world's slaves.  Men, women and children.

Here are some of my suggestions to continue the fight for freedom:

  • Educate yourself about the problem.  I wrote a blog post in April that includes several links, books and resources offering information about modern-day slavery.  Since that post, the  Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons released its Trafficking in Persons Report for 2013. 

  • Consume wisely.  For many reasons, we would all do well to critically evaluate all we consume.  Do we really need those clothes or that gadget?  Should we make changes to our diet -- for our health, for the environment, to save food for our neighbors?  I could probably write a whole series of posts about our culture of consumption, but will stop with just those three sentences.  The focus here is not on the quantity we consume but the quality. 
We live in a time when we can be more informed than ever before about the products we consume.  We can ask questions about where something came from and get answers.  Ask those questions and strive not to contribute your finances to slave owners.

Free2Work did a survey of the apparel industry and graded them on  the practices in place to prevent and address forced labor in their supply chain.  I've looked at the report and checked out the stores with the highest grades.  I'll admit, some of them offer not much more than white cotton t-shirts for $30.  We need more than white shirts and not all of us can afford those prices.  (Though I encourage everyone to reflect on the reasons behind higher prices of fair-trade products.)

But not all were obscure speciality companies.  Hanesbrands received an "A" grade.   (Read their Corporate Social Responsibility Statement here.)  Beyond Hanes, this includes Champion, Bali, Playtex, Just My Size, Beefy-T, C9, Celebrity, J.E. Morgan, One Hanes Place, Rinbros and others.  I haven't heard of all of those, but I have heard of Hanes.  And in my experience, they offer a wide range of quality apparel at affordable prices.  I remember picking out things from the Hanes catalog as a child (and we were poor). 

Check out their website -- I'm sure they won't be able to meet every single one of your clothing needs, but you'll probably be surprised at their prices and selection.  (And no, I'm in no way getting a commission.  I've just always loved their products and love them even more after learning how fair they are.)

  • Watch for slavery.  One of the biggest lessons I've learned by studying modern day slavery is that it is all around us.  That sounds like some kind of overly-zealous scare tactic, but it is all across the world, including right here in America.  It's in your state and could even be in your neighborhood. 
This means we must be keenly aware of the people around us.  Trafficked people are in our service industries here in America.  Befriend your manicurist, hair stylist, housekeeper and maintenance worker as much as you can.  Most of these people are not being forced to do their job, but some are. 

I've also been more aware at airports, keeping my eye out for people who may be trafficked right in front of me.  If you do suspect trafficking or for more information on warning signs, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center .

  • Continue supporting abolition.  I personally felt an instant connection to Love146, but they are not the only agency fighting slavery.  I have also been quite impressed by Free the Slaves and have been looking for ways to become more involved in their agency.  They were co-founded by a prolific modern-day abolitionist, Kevin Bales, and work internationally to educate entire villages of slaves, empowering them to free themselves.  Isn't that beautiful?  Freeing multi-generation slaves through education and empowerment?  As little as $56,000 can fund the several-year work to free an entire village.  Their model is amazing to me.  I would love to one day organize a campaign to fund those efforts.  Or better yet -- support the Free a Village,  Build a Movement campaign YOU organize.

I feel compelled to talk about one crucial piece of abolition.  Many experts say this one thing would totally eliminate sex trafficking.  It would eliminate the root of the problem.  I have given this simple solution a separate post, linked here, with an adult content disclaimer.